Header

UZH-Logo

Maintenance Infos

Neural signatures of syntactic variation in speech planning


Abstract

Planning to speak is a challenge for the brain, and the challenge varies between and within languages. Yet, little is known about how neural processes react to these variable challenges beyond the planning of individual words. Here, we examine how fundamental differences in syntax shape the time course of sentence planning. Most languages treat alike (i.e., align with each other) the 2 uses of a word like “gardener” in “the gardener crouched” and in “the gardener planted trees.” A minority keeps these formally distinct by adding special marking in 1 case, and some languages display both aligned and nonaligned expressions. Exploiting such a contrast in Hindi, we used electroencephalography (EEG) and eye tracking to suggest that this difference is associated with distinct patterns of neural processing and gaze behavior during early planning stages, preceding phonological word form preparation. Planning sentences with aligned expressions induces larger synchronization in the theta frequency band, suggesting higher working memory engagement, and more visual attention to agents than planning nonaligned sentences, suggesting delayed commitment to the relational details of the event. Furthermore, plain, unmarked expressions are associated with larger desynchronization in the alpha band than expressions with special markers, suggesting more engagement in information processing to keep overlapping structures distinct during planning. Our findings contrast with the observation that the form of aligned expressions is simpler, and they suggest that the global preference for alignment is driven not by its neurophysiological effect on sentence planning but by other sources, possibly by aspects of production flexibility and fluency or by sentence comprehension. This challenges current theories on how production and comprehension may affect the evolution and distribution of syntactic variants in the world’s languages.

Abstract

Planning to speak is a challenge for the brain, and the challenge varies between and within languages. Yet, little is known about how neural processes react to these variable challenges beyond the planning of individual words. Here, we examine how fundamental differences in syntax shape the time course of sentence planning. Most languages treat alike (i.e., align with each other) the 2 uses of a word like “gardener” in “the gardener crouched” and in “the gardener planted trees.” A minority keeps these formally distinct by adding special marking in 1 case, and some languages display both aligned and nonaligned expressions. Exploiting such a contrast in Hindi, we used electroencephalography (EEG) and eye tracking to suggest that this difference is associated with distinct patterns of neural processing and gaze behavior during early planning stages, preceding phonological word form preparation. Planning sentences with aligned expressions induces larger synchronization in the theta frequency band, suggesting higher working memory engagement, and more visual attention to agents than planning nonaligned sentences, suggesting delayed commitment to the relational details of the event. Furthermore, plain, unmarked expressions are associated with larger desynchronization in the alpha band than expressions with special markers, suggesting more engagement in information processing to keep overlapping structures distinct during planning. Our findings contrast with the observation that the form of aligned expressions is simpler, and they suggest that the global preference for alignment is driven not by its neurophysiological effect on sentence planning but by other sources, possibly by aspects of production flexibility and fluency or by sentence comprehension. This challenges current theories on how production and comprehension may affect the evolution and distribution of syntactic variants in the world’s languages.

Statistics

Citations

Altmetrics

Downloads

14 downloads since deposited on 27 Jan 2021
14 downloads since 12 months
Detailed statistics

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Linguistics
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Computational Linguistics
Special Collections > NCCR Evolving Language
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
400 Language
410 Linguistics
490 Other languages
Uncontrolled Keywords:Neurobiology, language, psycholinguistics, syntax, case marking, eye tracking, language production
Language:English
Date:26 January 2021
Deposited On:27 Jan 2021 16:06
Last Modified:06 Feb 2021 04:25
Publisher:Public Library of Science (PLoS)
ISSN:1544-9173
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001038
PubMed ID:33497384
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID51NF40_180888
  • : Project TitleNCCR Evolving Language (phase I)
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID100015_160011
  • : Project TitleErgativity in comprehension and production: language typology and processing
  • : FunderAustralian Research Council
  • : Grant IDFT160100437
  • : Project Title

Download

Gold Open Access

Download PDF  'Neural signatures of syntactic variation in speech planning'.
Preview
Content: Published Version
Language: English
Filetype: PDF
Size: 2MB
View at publisher
Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)